BOISE — Idaho Gov. Brad Little opted Thursday to move forward with reopening Idaho, despite some discouraging numbers, meaning large venues can get back into business and groups of more than 50 people can assemble, starting Saturday.
Little said the state would move to Stage 4 of reopening, which allows places like nightclubs and larger venues to reopen, as long as operators follow state guidelines.
The governor said it “would have been a catastrophe” if the officials had opted to stay in Stage 3 of his Idaho Rebounds plan.
“One hundred percent of businesses will be able to open their doors as we enter Stage 4,” Little said.
Idaho’s daily coronavirus caseload increased by more than 50% through Stages 2 and 3, going by the 14-day average, but state officials have been using different metrics than the ones they first announced in early May.
As of Wednesday, Idaho showed that more than 2,900 people had tested positive for the coronavirus and 85 people had died. Community spread had been confirmed in 24 of Idaho’s 44 counties, and more than 340 health care workers have contracted the virus.
“This isn’t just a Boise and Treasure Valley issue,” Little said.
Stage 4 criteria
To move into Stage 4, several criteria are supposed to be met, according to Little’s plan.
There must be a downward trend of people coming into emergency rooms with COVID-19-like symptoms and a downward trend of positive COVID-19 testing for 14 days.
That downward trend was required to either be for 14 consecutive days, or to have a testing rate below 5%.
Health care providers must be able to treat patients without using crisis-care measures, to avoid overloading providers.
There must also be a robust testing policy in place for health care providers and adequate personal protective equipment.
Little said Thursday that Idaho almost did not meet the qualifications needed to reopen the state. He said that some in Idaho have not been cautious.
Changes with Stage 4
Moving into Stage 4, the state will allow groups of more than 50 people to gather “where appropriate physical distancing” can happen.
Large venues, such as sporting venues, can reopen, and nightclubs may reopen with standing room.
Employers can resume unrestricted staffing but should continue to practice physical distancing and good sanitation policies. Special accommodations should still be made for employees who are at a high risk for coronavirus complications. That includes people who have pre-existing health conditions or who may be older than age 65.
Visits to senior living facilities and congregate facilities, such as jails and prisons, may occur.
Records released last Friday by the state found that there have been 289 coronavirus infections at 25 care facilities in Idaho. The facilities include nursing homes, assisted living facilities and group homes — of which there are about 400 operating in the state.
As of Wednesday, the Idaho Department of Correction was still reporting that it had no reports of inmates testing positive for the virus in the prisons. The department has not been accepting in-person visits to inmates since the pandemic began.
The Board of Correction has a meeting set for Friday, and an update on COVID-19 is on the agenda.
Back in business
Since Stage 3 began on May 30, nearly all Idaho businesses were allowed to reopen.
While the governor has asked businesses to comply with social distancing recommendations and encouraged people to wear masks, there is no mandate that businesses use any precautions.
On Tuesday, Little announced a new initiative, called ONE Idaho, which asks businesses to reopen responsibly.
ONE Idaho asks businesses to limit close interactions, maintain 6-foot physical distancing within their establishments, and step up cleaning efforts. The public is asked to practice social distancing, wash hands thoroughly and regularly, wear protective face coverings in public, and stay home if sick.
Unemployment benefits and delays
With record-high unemployment numbers amid the pandemic, some Idaho residents still have not received their unemployment checks after being laid off.
Laid-off Idaho workers have filed 136,901 initial claims for unemployment benefits during the nine weeks of the COVID-19 state of emergency – 2.3 times the total number of initial claims filed in all of 2019, according to the Idaho Department of Labor.
In May, the Statesman reported that many of those people faced long waits for those benefits.
Still, last Friday, Little announced that the state will offer $1,500 bonuses to unemployed Idahoans who return to work rather than stay on unemployment, where many of them collect bigger checks than their jobs pay.
The bonuses were financed with up to $100 million in federal relief funds.
During the economic and public health crisis, the Idaho Foodbank recently reported seeing record numbers of food insecure Idahoans. An estimated one in six Idahoans may not have enough food to eat this year, according to the analysis from Feeding America.
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